When does the human person begin to exist? Part 6: The human person as developing

by Dr. David Fleischacker

In the former 5 parts of our inquiry, we had explored the meaning of the Thomistic definition of person as a “distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature.” A person needs to be distinct from mother or father or brother or sister or friend or enemy. A person is a subsistent, a that which is, a concrete unity. A person is intrinsically linked to intelligence, reasonableness, responsibility, and love. And now to turn to the next stage, what is specifically human about this person?

The HUMAN person

As Developing:

In the former blog entry, it was noted that the intelligence of human beings develops. It starts as a mere potentiality, a mere capacity that grows through the years. In other words our questions for understanding, insights, definition and symbolic formulations of insights, our questions for reflection, reflective insights, judgments, questions for deliberation, apprehension of values, judgments of value and the good, and decisions unfold, shift, grow, and undergo transformations and even conversions over the years.These growths can be horizontal expansions of common sense, of the dramatic formation of human living, or of the artistic realms. These growths can undergo expansions into new modalities of stewarding the world mediated by meaning, such as takes place in the move into theory and explanation, and then again into a higher differentiation of consciousness that Lonergan identifies as the shift to an explanatory interiority or the “Third Stage of Meaning.” And within each higher stage whether theory or interiority, horizontal developments can take place. Differentiations of the sciences, and ultimately of metaphysics can be articulated and explored, and then used to guide and direct our lives within creation and history.

Most comprehensively, the human being can be characterized in terms of the full range of our questions and the full range of notions that constitute the aims of these questions. Lonergan defines this totality as the capacity for self-transcendence. We are beings that seek intelligibility, truth or being, and the good. This capacity drives our development and this capacity defines our aims. Its fulfillment is what we desire, and such fulfillment would bring ultimate happiness. Thus, to find that which would bring about such fulfillment would be to adhere to that which would be our true happiness. This ultimately means to be in love with one who is unrestricted intelligence, truth, and goodness.

Thus, the human being is intrinsically intellectual because the human being is intrinsically constituted by a relationship to understanding the intelligible, to judging that discovers the true, to evaluation and deliberation that beholds the good and grounds true freedom, and most comprehensively to a capacity for self-transcendence that yearns to be actuated in a love that truly completes it, in a love of God as God who has first flooded our hearts with love, and placed us into a context to love our neighbor and our enemy in a manner that transforms our world.

Our development is one that brings about a religious self-transcendence in faith, hope, and love; a moral self-transcendence that forms into the moral virtues; an intellectual self-transcendence that forms into the intellectual virtues. Human beings are human persons because of this intrinsic link to intellectual life, one that is “one the way” toward ultimate human perfection in another that is perfection itself.

But when do we begin?

Of course, these all refer to the developments of the human mind, will, and heart and we are looking for the beginning of the human person. When does this intrinsic link to developing intelligence, reason, deliberation, love begin? Part of the difficulty in answering this question is a difficulty raised two blog entries ago, in part 4. The human being is not merely an intellectual, rational, responsible being. We are in-carnated, infleshed, and that infleshment is in two related levels that develop. On a first level emerges the organic. Early in life we undergo multiple differentiations of cells and cell systems. At the beginning, we are but a single cell, then a few cells, and out of this grows the circulatory, the muscular, the immunological, the digestive, the neurological, and a number of other interrelated systems. With the trees we share growth, feeding, and other organic systems. On a second level arises the motor-sensory-affective developments. Increasing integrations of the body, especially through the neurological, blossoms forth into a motor-sensory set of operations that give rise to sensate living within this world. With the animals we share sensory perceptions of our spatial-temporal niches of life, and the ability to transform those niches with our motor responses in the context of passions and emotions.

But are these vegetative and sensate dimensions of our existence intrinsically linked to intelligence, rationality, morality, love?

Next Expected Blog Entry: March 1

For those who are interested, I think the conclusion of this current question should take place in the following order, each one to be published one week after the former.

1. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 7. The Human Person: the relation of the mind to the body

2. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 8. The Human Person: the relation of the body to the mind

3. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 9. The Human Person: The relation of the zygote and fetus to the adult mind.

4. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 10. The Human Person: The CONCLUSION

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 5: “In an Intellectual Nature”

By David Fleischacker

“In an Intellectual Nature”

As we move toward the final installment that will complete the current inquiry that began over a month ago, we now turn to the last terms in the Thomistic definition of person: “In an intellectual/rational nature.”

St. Thomas identifies three types beings that are intellectual: God, Angels, and Human beings. God is the only being that is perfect in act, whose “essence” is Existence. Whose essence is an infinitely existing intellectual and rational Being. Angels on the other hand are created, and in their creation their forms are specifically unique. Each angel, in other words, is its own species. Human beings in contrast are intellectual beings that are on the “horizon of Being.” They start as mere potentialities in intelligence, and through the collaboration of the human race, they move toward the act or perfection of their minds and wills. Thus, they form one species, one race.

Still, what is meant by intelligence and rationality? Our understanding of these terms requires that we start with what is most known to us, which neither is God nor angels, but ourselves. We must start by understanding the nature of our own minds first, then analogically we can ascend to angels and to God. Of course, our goal here regards the human person, not the ascent to angels and God.

A small problem regularly arises however In discovering our own minds. Augustine was fond of pointing out in his Confessions, and a host of other writings, that many of us start in a distorted way in relationship to our minds. We tend to be “out of doors”, and understand all of reality in terms of images and pictures. We cannot fully be blamed for this, since we start living with our senses, and our knowledge starts in the senses. As Lonergan notes, in our earliest years of life we begin “in the world of immediacy.” And though our destiny is much different, we share with the animals this sense type knowledge of the world, and like the animals we transform that world with our motor responses.

However, as Augustine goes on to note, the very power by which we come to know even things in our senses is beyond the senses, and beyond the bodily. Our minds search for understanding, truth, and even wisdom. We can seek the good and the beautiful. We can search for the truly Wise and beautiful Beloved in whom we “move and live and have our being.” This very capacity to move toward the transcendentals and The Transcendent are not only the basis for our exploration of this world, but more fundamentally these relate us interiorly to God. Constitutive of our being is the fact that we are a “light of Being” as St. Augustine notes, or an Agent Intellect, to use the Aristotelian and Thomistic term. Our potentialities as intelligent knowers is realized through this light, as is our potentialities as seekers of truth and goodness.

To transpose this into Lonergan’s terms and relations, the human subject raises questions for understanding in an immediate relation to intelligibility, questions for reflection in an immediate relation to truth and being, and questions for deliberation in an immediately relation to the good. These questions are fundamentally an illumination of conscious existence, a kind of light of intelligibility, a light of truth, and a light of goodness. As lights these underpin, penetrate, and transcend any particular finite intelligibility, finite truth, and finite good. As underpinning, these lights start as a “known unknown” seeking answers. As penetrating, these lights illumine a known known. As transcendent, these same lights then become the source of further illuminations, further explorations, and hence they are the principle of transcendence. Ultimately, if one begins to question the very meaning and possibility of intelligibility and wonders if there is an unrestricted intelligibility that explains everything about everything; if one begins to wonder if there is an absolutely unconditioned Truth and Being that could provide the foundations for all contingent or conditional truths and beings; if one begins to wonder if there is an absolutely unconditioned Good that provides the basis for all finite goods, then two realizations open up. First, the strange and unrestricted potentiality of the human rational soul that cannot be happy without the realization of that potentiality. And secondly, that realization is not in the self, but in another, in the Unrestricted as Unrestricted, in God as God.

As a note, these short summaries of St. Thomas and Lonergan are merely pointers to their works up to which one needs to begin the magnificent climb if one really wants to grasp the fuller analogical meaning of an intellectual and rational nature. The human ascent to the metaphysical mind and its wisdom, and then beyond to the Transcendent is a profound if difficult and at times seemingly impossible journey. It cannot be recommended enough however.

So, where does this leave us with the question at hand? An intellectual and rational being is one in whom intelligibility, truth, and goodness are illumined, and ultimately theese are underpinned by love itself. This love binds intellectual, rational, and moral subjects to each other through the intelligible, the true, and the good. What this means for us, is that any being which has some intrinsic link to being intelligent, to being reasonable or rational, to being moral, to being in love is the key to understand the meaning of “in an intellectual nature.”

Why intrinsic? One could say that artifacts, for example, are linked to intelligence, rationality, and morality, and even love, but they are not intellectual/rational beings because these are not constituted by an interior relationship or an intrinsically intelligible relationship to intelligence, reason, responsibility and love. Only God, angels, and human beings fit the profile.

God is intrinsically linked as a total and unrestricted identity to intelligence reasonableness, goodness, and love because God is an unrestrictedly intelligent and intelligible Being, an unrestrictedly reasonable and true Being, an unrestrictedly responsible and good Being. “God is love.” Each of these are completely one with another as well. God’s intelligence and intelligibility is God’s reasonableness and truth is God’s responsibility and goodness is God’s love.

Angels are intrinsically linked to an intellectual nature in another way. They are not unrestricted. They are contingent and created. At the same time, their intellectual, rational, and moral beings are fully realized. They do not develop. Intrinsically, their realized intelligence, rationality, and moral existence constitute each angel in a unique way. In turn, this provides a way for distinguishing one from the other, hence each is a unique species unto itself. (Of course, I am using St. Thomas’ position on angels).

Finally, human beings are intrinsically linked to intellectual and rational life as well. But how? That is to be the topic of the next installment.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 4 The basis of the unity-identity-whole in an explanatory viewpoint.

by David Fleischacker

In the last installment on January 11th, a question was posed at the end.

“The question then becomes more precisely what is required to grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity of a concrete unity, a subsistent being? Since all insight requires an adequate image or phantasm, what kind of image or phantasm is needed for the emergence of the insight that recognizes a unity-identity-whole?”

Expanding the question in terms of Conjugate Forms, the Unity-Identity-Whole, and Development.

In chapter 8 of INSIGHT, Lonergan succinctly presents the cognitive discovery of the unity-identity-whole, and then how the knower can move to an explanatory differentiation of the unity-identity-whole, the thing in its various conjugate forms (as both genus and species). The highest set of conjugate forms define the kind of thing that is unified. He makes it clear that the “direct insights” which understand these highest conjugate forms are not the same as those insights which grasp unity-identity-wholes.” Later in the book, a nuance is added to the differentation of things. In chapter 15, “Elements of Metaphysics,” Lonergan introduces a further heuristic structure, that had been implicit in certain parts of the book earlier, including chapter 8, namely genetic/developmental method. And he subsequently integrates that which is known developmentally with the notion of the thing. A developmental thing changes through sequences of changing conjugate forms, yet it is one and the same through the entire process from beginning to end. So the same thing is both acorn and, later, Oak.

Now these developmental insights are distinct from insights into conjugate form and central form (central form = unity-identity-whole). Since our purpose here is to identify when the human person begins to exist, and the human person is a developing kind of thing, we need to examine what place development holds in our inquiry.

Another way of posing this question is how does a thing, as it develops, remain one and the same. A zygote of an animal, for example, has rather indeterminate organic or vegetative features, and nothing more. It is not yet a sensate being. When it sufficiently develops to possess neural cells and ganglia, and then a brain, and thus begins to acquire the ability to sense, it has become a new kind of thing. Is this a substantial change? Is it an annihilation of an old unity-identity-whole and the creation of a new one? Now, as said above, Lonergan states that it is one and the same, even through the same thing changes from a lower set of conjugate forms (eg. Organic) to a higher set (psychic/sensate).

Now notice, that if one stops at this point, then one can only say that the same thing is an organic thing at stage one, then the same thing becomes a sensate/psychic kind of thing at stage two. This means that the same thing comes to possess a different kind of nature. Thus, when one wants to define a thing, does one then need to use multiple definitions depending upon the stage of development? The ramifications of this, for our question at hand, is that one must wonder if a human person, which needs to be a rational/intellectual being, exists only when a certain kind of thing reaches a stage at which rational life is in act, or at least has the power to act. This would seem to support the theory of delayed-hominization. It means that at one stage, I am merely an organic kind of thing (vegetative), then I become a sensate kind of thing (animal), and later a rational kind of thing. I am one and the same throughout these three major shifts, yet quite different at each stage. It also means, however, given the definition of person with which we are working (a distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature), that I am not a human person until that third stage.

Defining a Thing Developmentally

However, the notion of development, especially as it is related to horizontal and vertical finality (For more on the meaning of finality, see INSIGHT, chapter 14, and I would also recommend his treatment of it in Third Collection, in the essay “Healing and Creating in History), introduces some new ways for defining something. One can come to define “what” something is not only by the highest actually operative conjugate forms in their schemes of recurrence, but by the potency of the highest actually operative conjugate forms in their schemes of recurrence. Any developing being that is at any stage prior to full maturity is a system that is an operator because it not only possesses a regular set of schemes of recurrence, but it is setting itself up for either horizontal (just as a deductive or homogenous expansion can take place in arthmetic, so an organism can “expand” its organic operations) or vertical (just as one can move from arithmetic to algebra, so a organism can expand from vegetative/organic operations to motor-sensate operations) changes.

The Highest Finality of a Potency as That Which Unifies all the Data in a Development

Because every potency is defined by its relation to form and act, and because those relations can be horizontal and vertical, one can define a thing by the highest potency that constitutes it (I say highest, because in a complex matured organism, the maturation of stem cells which maintain and heal tissues include operators, but these are not the highest operators of the organism as a whole). Now notice, that the highest potency of a developing thing is the same from its beginning to its completion, even though at the earliest stage that potency is vertical and later it became horizontal, and then perhaps, once maturity was reached development stops. In this last stage, the same potency is still a constituent of the being, though now it is a fully realized potency. This is why a particular developing kind of thing can be defined by the highest finality that belongs to its potency.

Thus, one is not forced to limit a definition of a unity-identity-whole to a particular set of actual highest conjugate forms, or, in other words, to a particular stage of development.

[As a note, the finality of a particular thing is different from the universe as a whole, not so much because emergent probability is different, but because in a thing, the particular sequences of development have been delimited within a particular flexible developmental range, whereas in the finality of the universe, no such delimitation has taken place, but rather it includes the possibility of a multiplicity of things and ranges of developing things this as well would be worth another blog article!].

Hence, in defining a zygote of a dog, therefore, one can define it in various ways, but most appropriately I would argue, one wants to define it as a developmental kind of thing, and thus by means of the kind of potency the “dog” zygote possesses, and more specifically, the highest orientation of the potency, which is a vertical orientation toward specific motor-sensory-affective integrations and operations. Thus, if one defines a dog as that which has a particular finality in its potency (which could only be specified after an explantory account of all the developemental stages of the dog takes place in the scientific community), a finality that opens up to a particular combination of motor-sensory-affective integrations/operations, then one can say that this zygote which is one and the same with the fully matured dog is also the same in its developmental nature, and thus possesses the nature of a dog.

[If you have never done so, it is worthwhile taking the extended time needed to work through some specific examples of eucharyotic cells, DNA, a general understanding of biochemical schemes, cell differentiation, and the emergence of differentiated tissues, especially neural tissues and brain development. The emergence of motor-sensory-affective possibilities from these earlier stages is rather fascinating even though knowledge of it is still limited.]

Recognition of a Unity-Identity-Whole in an Explanatory viewpoint requires not only that all the data be individual, but that these data be link in some fashion

This resolves a thorny issue in my mind regarding the recognition in an explanatory framework that something is a unity-identity-whole. From the explanatory viewpoint, the data that form a unity-identity-whole cannot be just individual data, but rather these must be linked to each other in some fashion. For Lonergan, this link is the highest set of conjugate forms that are operative in a set of data (see chapter 8 and 15). Whatever data are united in that highest set of conjugate forms (or it could be one form) all belong to the same thing in all of their particular aspects. In a developing kind of thing however, which undergoes emerging sequences of higher conjugate forms, the actual conjugate forms of a particular stage do not provide the unification with the data of earlier or later stages. Something else is needed. And that need is provided by turning to the highest developmental potency (or finality) of this particular being, which is the same at all of its stages. This developmental potency developmentally unifies all the data from beginning to end.

How a Developmental Unity-Identity-Whole is grasped by understanding and affirmed in judgment

Now this developmental unity, like a unity of data integrated through the highest set of conjugate forms, is not the same as the “unity-identity-whole”, since it regards data as similarly understood, not data as individual. In an explanatory framework, once one has worked through the developmental sequences of some being, a range of intellectually patterned experiences then is generated that lead to the unity-identity-whole insight as explanatorily grounded (this can be reached for some things through descriptive conjugates as well but this is for another blog since we are interested in the explanatory definition of person). As a note, this is much like how the “doing of arithmetic” provides the experiential matrix for getting insights into algebra. Likewise, one can verify in judgment this unity-identity-whole by going back and reflecting upon the relationship of this insight into the central form and its basis in the data as developmentally unified.

Final Conclusion

Thus, to return to the initial question stated at the end of the last blog. The meaning of a “that which is”, a “subsistent,” requires a unity, and that unity is a unity-identity-whole. This unity-identity-whole in a data has its roots in the data as intelligibly united either through some highest set of conjugate forms, or, if it is a developing kind of thing, through the highest reaches of the potency for development (horizontally and/or vertically). However, it is not that data as “similarly understood” but that data as individual.

If one can reasonably affirm a unity-identity-whole, one can reasonably know that such a reality exists. And if such a reality exists, subsistences exist. The next set of questions turn to the meaning of “in an intellectual/rational nature.” Following that, we can turn to human subsistents in an intellectual nature, and finally turn to develop an answer to our original question: “When do human persons begin to exist?”

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 3: The reality of the concrete unity-identity-whole.

By David Fleischacker

In part 2, I began to examine the notion of the “subsistent” and noted that one key element in a subsistent is the unity of the reality — it needs to be a “that” or a “this” not a “those” nor a “these.” However, both a relational metaphysics and a reductionist metaphysics seriously challenge this key notion of unity. At best, unity becomes a mere epiphenomena, a being of reason, but not a reality. If the reality of the subsistent is going to be salvaged, the reality of unity needs to be substantiated.

Lonergan’s solution turns to the notion of reality, not as that which is lowest in the universe of being (perhaps quarks or some more basic form of energy), or even relational beings, but “that which is grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonably.” This is a bit of a sound bite behind which are the levels of understanding and judgment which are explored more thoroughly in the first half of INSIGHT. When one raises questions for understanding, receives an insight, and then defines that insight, one has “grasped intelligently.” And when one raises questions for reflection, reflects back upon the relation of insight and image/data, then receives reflective insight and pronounces judgment, one has “affirmed reasonably” the understanding. Thus anything–and that means anything–any property, any feature, any experience that can be understood and affirmed in judgment is real.

The cognitive elements are included in the definition of the “that” simply because then one can understand what is meant through a heuristic definition. This heuristic apprehension is needed for a cognitive/rational being to understand the meaning of being (which is possible because our beings are beings that are “lights of being” or “agent intellects participative in divine being”). Hence, to use a traditional language, we understand the meaning of being by the analogy of Being.

Thus, what is key for solving the problem about the reality of the unity-identity-whole is that it be a “that” which can be grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonable, and is real even if not understood or known by anyone.

With this meaning of “real” in mind, neither the lowest, most basic component of things (the ultimate focus of a reductionist metaphysics), nor the relations of things (the focus of a relational metaphysics) preclude the possibility of a unity that also is real, since it too can be grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonably. If one can mean some meaning with the words “this” or “that” then that meaning is rooted upon an insight, and if this insight is affirmed reasonably to be a “this” or “that”, then one can know that one’s meaning refers to a real unity that is identified by the “this” or “that.” Hence just as one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the lowest component of all things, and just as one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the relations of things, so one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity necessary to be a thing. Neither reductionist nor relational metaphysics are adequate because neither is capable of accounting for all that is real in this universe. (As a note, Lonergan dialectically analyzes the reductionist position in a number of places in INSIGHT).

The question then becomes more precisely what is required to grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity of a concrete unity, a subsistent being? Since all insight requires an adequate image or phantasm, what kind of image or phantasm is needed for the emergence of the insight that recognizes a “unity-identity-whole”?

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 2: To be a subsistent, or not to be.

By David Fleischacker

Last week, in the search for the answer to this factual question about when a human person begins to exist, I had turned to the definition of a person developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, with the hopes that it would add significant precision in the search for an answer. And in initiating that search, the meaning of the first term of the definition had been explored. A person is distinct from others. A child must be distinct from his or her mother, as well as others, in order to be a person. Now we turn to the second term in St. Thomas’ definition of person; subsist.

A subsistent, as far as I can tell, is a being in all of its concrete unity. It is not just a part of a being, such as the molecules or the biological systems of cells that compose it, or the unity of it. It is the entire, concrete, existing being, which as such, exists in itself and not in another as St. Thomas highlights.

As a human person, this means that all of my parts, all of my being, including my thoughts, my will, my memories, my character, my personality, my body, legs, eyes, arms, ears, my unity, identity, whole, my individuality, my perfections and lack thereof, all belong to my concrete existing being. These are parts of me, unified in me, which allows me to say these belong to me, not as a possession of mine, but rather as a constituent part of my being. These parts are the parts of a complex composition that is me and which thus allow me to say in a very subjective and objective way that these parts are me, such that if someone were to harm a part, I would then say you have hurt me. These parts are constitutive and compositional, not merely add-ons to my being. I, and all that composes me, am a concrete unity. I am a subsistent being.

And yet, all of this can be challenged. Perhaps the most difficult element of subsistence, at least for me, is the question about the unity of the concrete being. What if the very notion of unity is merely that, a notion, and not real? A number of philosophers and scientists in the post-modern era, especially ecologists, have highlighted the relational element of all events and things, including people. If the relational is all that is real, then unity is merely a notion and these relationally consistuted parts and pieces are just that, relationally consitituted parts and pieces. There is no unified subject, no individual. Individualism is an idea of the past. And subsequently, with the loss of a real concrete unity, there is no meaning to subsistent being.

One can go on to add premises that destroy the notion of the subsistent by giving a multitude of examples that highlight the relational in this world. My lungs for example do not operate and really do not make sense except in relationship to oxygen and carbon dioxide cycles, and the plants and trees that form part of those cycles. Even the biochemical cycles in my body do not make sense as independent elements without understanding the relationship these possess to various forms of energy in the ecosystem (eg. Such as Kreb’s cycle and a large bowl of food). As a human being I am a social being. I am the son of so and so, a teacher, a student, a consumer, a friend, and on and on. All relationally defined terms. When I look at my being, from the sub-sub-atomic to the most meaningful elements, I understanding nothing but relational events and activities. Even my own mind is constituted by transcending notions that seek the intelligible, the true, and the good, transcending terms that are not me. And this transcending orientation is not restricted, which implies a relation to some unrestricted being. So, isn’t what is real, what is concrete, simply a relational reality? There is no independent, individual unity that is distinct from others, that subsists. Rather what exists is a web of relationships that expand throughout the galaxy, and to the universe as a whole, and onward to the divine.

One could also destroy the subsistent by traveling the way of the reductionist. Looking at a human being, one could focus upon the chemical, or the sub-atomic, or the sub-sub-atomic. One sees just an aggregate pile of molecules, once in a while statistically interacting with each other in some type of reaction. There is no overarching unity from this point of view, and hence one begins to argue that there is no larger thing that mysteriously brings everything together. The larger unity becomes a mere epi-phenomena, more conceptual than real. And as Lonergan pointed out, beings of mere reason are not subsistent.

Notice, how this also destroys the notion of individuality, and along with it the reality of distinctness, and the cognitive ability to distinguish. A relational reality is not really a distinct being, an individual.

The objections to the notion of subsistent thus can be serious. If it does not exist, then the meaning of person really does not hold. People really do not exist. This long standing Western tradition that affirms the reality of the person and of people should be cast into a grave. Human beings as persons cannot be. Like the chemical reductionist, Derrida the linguistic reductionist is right. My mother is no longer a person. I am no longer a person. And Tertullian and the tradition he helped initiate was wrong all along. The three what in God cannot be three divine persons.

Yet, a reality seems to persist. I want to be a person, with a name, a concrete biography, a son, a friend, a student, a teacher, and ultimately a child of God. And for me to be these things I must be an I, not just as an epiphenomena or a merely subjective conscious I, but as a real objective unity. I not only want to be related to others but I also want to be distinct from them, and to be a concrete unity, a subject who can love, and be responsible, and truthful, and intelligent.

The solution? Let us leave it for the next installment.

Knowing and Willing in Aquinas

By Dunstan Robidoux, OSB

In the common literature which exists about Aquinas, he is frequently described as an “intellectualist.” His philosophy (or theology) is frequently regarded as “intellectualist” which implies that he subscribes to a tradition which emphasizes the primary of the human intellect in the life of human beings. However, is this popular view somewhat misleading for more than one reason? Can a development be detected in Aquinas which offers a more nuanced position, a thesis which jars with simple intellectualism and which can be reconciled with a degree of voluntarism? Is Aquinas misunderstood because many of his readers today could be working from a truncated understanding of what could be meant by “intellectualism”?

Early on, in his analysis, In interpreting Aristotle’s De Anima, 3, 433b10-13 in the Sentencia Libri De anima, 3, 15, 830; p. 246, Aquinas argues that, in Aristotle, the “absolute starting point of movement” in the movement of desire or appetite is the apprehension of a desired object, either through the powers of human imagination or the activity of the human intellect. Appetibile apprehensum movet appetitum; “the apprehended object of desire moves the appetite” (citing J. Michael Stebbins’s translation, Divine Initiative: Grace, World-Order, and Human Freedom in the Early Writings of Bernard Lonergan, p. 323, n. 90) even if this phrasing only presents the meaning of Aquinas’s interpretation and so does not cite any literal wording from any text written by Aquinas. On the whole, in the early writings of Aquinas, the will tends to be viewed in passive terms. It is something which is acted upon. Cf. Lonergan, “On God and Secondary Causes,” Collection, p. 63. It lacks a causality of its own.

However, in a development of view which gradually transcends the simple intellectualism of Aristotle, in Aquinas (and in Lonergan’s analysis of Aquinas), will and intellect are related in a way which is best understood in terms of a mutual causality or a causality of mutual priority. In analyzing how Aquinas understands how the human will is related to the life of the intellect, in his Grace and Freedom, pp. 95-96 and pp. 319-320, Lonergan argues that, when Aquinas speaks about the causality of the human will (the fact that it has a causality of its own), he rejects Aristotle’s understanding which had viewed the will as purely a function of reason (as a “wholly passive potency,” quoting Stebbins, p. 84). Cf. Patrick Byrne, “Thomist Sources of Lonergan’s Dynamic World-View,” Thomist: 117. See Thomas Aquinas, In 2 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 25, q. 1, a. 2; De Veritate, q. 22, a. 6; Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 10, 17; De Malo, q. 3, a. 3; Peri Hermeneias, 1, 14; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 81, a. 3, ad 2; q. 82, a. 2 for texts which deny that acts of understanding and judgment force or necessitate the will to engage in its activities which lead to a desired end. While the life of the human imagination and the human intellect does admittedly play a primary role in exciting the human will toward movement, a double primary causality is in fact to be postulated (two operative efficient causes) since the human will also acts (to move itself) on the basis of naturally desired ends which already belong to the structure of the will and which incline it to act in certain ways or in certain directions. “To will and not to will lie within the power of the will” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 10, 17; 3, p. 61). Cf. De Malo, q. 6, a. 1. The human will is in fact moved by two causes, or two principles, which refer to a structure of reason and a structure of desire or appetite which are related to each other and which work together to move things forward in human life. As one’s understanding specifies an object or end which is to be desired by one’s human willing (Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 9, a. 1), at the same time, the self-movement of the will is accounted for by its own ends and first principles which, rationally, are constitutive of its inner life (q. 9, a. 3). The object or end is a practical good that is being desired or wanted. An appetibile or “seekable” designates the object of a striving. Cf. Martin Rhonheimer, Natural Law and Practical Reason, p. 26; p. 32; p. 71.

As this double causality is played out in the life of human beings in a way which also reveals a certain parallel in the structure of intellect and will in the rational life of human beings, where in the structure and operations of human cognition the object is a knowledge of specific facts, in the end, judgments belonging to the will (as a knowing which seeks to grasp courses of action) are also rationally made by reducing hypothesized conclusions to first principles in order to establish specific courses of action which can then be implemented to realize a desired, concrete good. In the life of the will, the will moves itself by working for ends or objectives which are constitutive of its first principles and by effecting a kind of reduction which tries to move from ends specified by first principles back towards specific means that can lead to the ultimate attainment of one’s desired ends. As, in theoretical understanding, from a general premiss in a syllogism one moves toward a specific conclusion, in the same way, from an end or object which functions as a kind of premiss in practical or moral understanding (Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 13, a. 3) and which is to be identified with the human will’s fundamental orientation toward the good (Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 90, a. 2; q. 94, a. 2 cited by Frederick Crowe, “Dialectic and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises,” Appropriating the Lonergan Idea, p. 238), one moves toward a choice which designates a very specific means that can lead to other, higher means and ends which ultimately lead to an end that satisfies all of one’s desires and whose desiring has served as a catalyst to construct an ascending scale of related means and ends. If one is to reach an ultimate goal, one must discover a very specific, initial means or concrete step whose execution will initiate a series of actions that will lead to ultimately desired ends. A teological order or structure belongs to the dynamism of the human will as this will constructs a relation of means and ends which lead to the actualization of a highest goal or end, and as this same will works with other human wills to order means and ends in ways which distinguish how persons differently will and live their lives. As Aquinas argues above in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 13, a. 3, for a physician, a patient’s health is something ultimate. A physician will make decisions based on what will nourish or restore a patient’s health. But, if one is a patient or a potential patient, one might decide to forego certain medical treatments because one wishes to attain higher objectives: end which transcend the health of one’s body. The end of one person’s life or activity can become a means for another person’s life or activity. Cf. Crowe, pp. 237-8. In the life of the will, one usually works from an initial, inchoate sense of basic ends or objectives and, from there, one works toward specific objectives which designate means that are made known through co-operative activities that are centered in acts of inquiring, understanding, and judging.

Knowing and willing clearly move each other in a reciprocal relation which more fully reveals an existential tension which inherently exists within human life and, thus, a certain lack of simplicity: a mysteriousness or wonder which exists about the meaning of our human existence. A mutual or reciprocal causality excludes, on the one hand, a simple primacy of the reason over the will (as the Greeks would largely have it) and, on the other hand, a simple primacy of the will over the intellect (as many modern thinkers would have it, thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Nietzsche, and Freud). In one’s understanding, one’s desires and inclinations are known and in one’s desires and affections, one moves toward one’s acts of understanding (from what is already understood to what has yet to be understood). Cf. De Veritate, q. 9, a. 10, ad 3, 2ae ser. In the context of modern voluntarism, the human will is usually not seen as a reasonable or rational thing. Intellect and will, “intellectualism” and “voluntarism,” tend to be set apart from each other in a false dichotomy that can be overcome through a self-understanding which can begin to realize that our human understanding grows and develops through a constant interaction between intellect and will (which would also include a constant, ongoing interaction between sense and intellect in the life of the human mind). For a better understanding of modern contemporary views which emphasize the primacy of the will over the intellect, on Hobbes and the primacy of the human lust for power in human life, see Eric Voegelin, Modernity without Restraint: Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, vol. 5, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), p. 307.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 1: To Be Distinct

By David Fleischacker

In answering the factual question “When does the human person begin to exist?”, a first step is to examine what is meant by “person” as such. Lonergan’s work on Christology and Trinitarian Theology lends us a great deal of precision in answering this question. Though we cannot pretend to present the profound explanatory and interior accounts of person developed especially in Lonergan’s piece on the ONTOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSTITUTION OF CHRIST, nor of his development of its meaning in his systematic exposition of person in THE TRIUNE GOD: SYSTEMATICS, I think it would be good to begin with one of the most prominent definitions of person from which Lonergan springs, namely that developed by St. Thomas Aquinas.

In developing his systematic account of the Holy Trinity, Aquinas defines person as a “distinct subsistent in a intellectual nature” In order to understand St. Thomas’ definition one must come to understand all of the key terms in the definition and with these understood, one can then proceed to the meaning of human person, and finally to the question of fact that concludes as to when the human person begins to exist. Along the way, we will explore the transposition of the meaning of person from faculty psychological of the 13th century into the exposition of person through the more recent interiority analysis as found in Lonergan, and the subsequent metaphysical clarification of the meaning of person.

So, we shall begin with the first term, “distinct.” Ultimately it bears upon such questions as when is the child distinct from the mother? At the moment a zygote is formed? When the infant is sensitively conscious? When the infant is intellectually, rationally, and morally conscious?

First Question: What is the meaning and importance of “distinct”?

The Importance of the Subjective Ability to Distinguish

Being able to ground the fact that some feature or thing is distinct from another cognitively requires the ability to make “absolute” judgments such that one can say that A is and B is, and then move to comparative judgments, such as A is not B. Epistemologically, these comparative judgments result in what Lonergan calls the principle notion of objectivity and when the A is a “unity, identity, whole” and “B” is a unity identity whole” (or more technically, an actually existing central/substantial form) and A is not B, then one objectively knows that two distinct things exist. We can ask, for example, is this tree that tree, or this dog that dog. If one says no in each case, then one has factually distinguished different things and arrived at some degree of objectification of the real world. Notice, if such judgments are not possible, then one cannot really become “attuned” to this universe and world, since such attunment requires that people, persons, and things become distinguished and related. Without these judgments, we would not recognize ourselves as distinct from anything in this world, nor the distinction of friends and family from each other, nor the distinction of one culture from another, nor a tree from a pond, nor a cell from a mountain.

The Criterion or Ground for Distinguishing

One can then turn from the need for comparative judgments to the basic criterion that ground these comparative judgments. For example, in making the comparative judgment of fact that one tree is not another, one could be making the distinction based upon the difference of species of trees. One is an oak, another a maple, hence these are distinct. However, in addition to the distinction based on species of tree, there is a simple fact of material difference, this tree here and now is not the same as that tree over there. These trees occupy different experiential spatial regions. Hence, even if these two trees were the same species, say maple, and the same age, say 25 years old, and even had grown in precisely the same way over the years right down to the order of the sub-atomic quarks (yes, this would be impossible), these would still be different just because of the different spatial-temporal differences. Likewise for dogs. Dogs can be distinct from each other on a number of traits, but say that two dogs were identical to each other in everything except the spatial-temporal regions that these dogs occupy. These dogs would be distinct “things” on that basis alone.

When one turns to the Holy Trinity, the question of the basis of distinction becomes rather interesting. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct from each other on the basis of genus, species, Being, Intellectual disposition, hair color, physical size, or because each occupies a different spatial-temporal region. So what is the basis of the distinction between these three? The answer to this, since at least St. Augustine (I believe book seven of De Trinitate) has been mutually opposed relations which results in the irreducibility of the terms of the relations to each other (Actually, I have found similar answers in St. Gregory of Nyssa). “Relations” without opposition do not result in such distinctions. For example, friendship is based on two relationships, the first being based on friend one who seeks the good of friend two. The second on friend two who seeks the good of friend one. However these are not mutually opposed in kind. Rather, it results in two relations similar in kind, which means that the two terms of the relations are the same (term one being friend one, and term two being friend two). Friendship is a relationship that results in “two friends.” Father and son however are likewise rooted in relations but these are mutual opposed, because the relation of paternity and the relation of filiation are different in kind from each other, and these result in two irreducibly different terms, “father” and “son”, not two fathers or two sons. This becomes the basis for saying why one is not the other in the Holy Trinity. The Father “begets” the Son and thus has a relationship of paternity to the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father, and thus has a relationship of filiation to the Father. Mutually opposed relations is the key.

The Conclusion is that different kinds of things might need different grounds that allow human beings to understand the difference cognitively and that actually cause these things to be distinct metaphysically.

The Ground for Distinction of Human Beings Cognitively and Metaphysically

Our concern at the moment is not with the ground of the distinction of three Persons in the Trinity, but rather the meaning of “distinct” as such, and in turn how it grounds the distinction of human persons, and then how this distinction bears upon when human persons begin to exist.

The basis upon which one human being is not another is not easy to identify metaphysically as the following two questions illustrate. “Is the basis of the distinction between human beings the genetic uniqueness of a person?” “Is it that each man, woman, and child possesses a self-conscious unity?” Notice how neither of these grounds for distinction work because neither provides a definitive principle of difference. Theoretically, human beings could be genetically identical, hence that does not quite work. Likewise, even in possessing a “self-conscious unity”, one cannot use that feature to conclude that one person is not another because both “self-conscious” human beings would be the same in this feature of “self-conscious unity.” Furthermore, one is not always a “self-conscious unity” and this provides further evidence that this cannot be a principle of difference.

Now, as with trees and dogs, one can argue that human beings are distinct from each other on many grounds: Biographical, cultural, and biological differences would allow one to say why one human being is not another. In the end, however, one human being could be completely identical to another biographically, culturally, and biologically (even down to the sub-atomic quarks), and yet each would be distinct from the other. The solution? Though I do not think this solution can be reached yet with clarity, I can point to Lonergan’s answer. Each human being possesses a difference rooted in one feature of the empirical residue, which Lonergan calls “individuality.” Cognitively, individuality is a residue in intellectually patterned experience that is identifiable when one grasps that a human material-rational-spiritual unity exists. Metaphysically, individuality is part of central (substantial) potency, and this difference in individuality is what metaphysically causes human beings to be distinct from each other. Notice though, I have slipped in something that needs to be made more precise first, namely “material-rational-spiritual unity” on the cognitive side, and “central (substantial) form” on the metaphysical side, and clarification of these will come when we treat the subsequent terms — “subsistent in an intellectual nature” — in Aquinas’ definition of person and work this out as it exists in human beings.

For now, we just need to note that in order for a human person to be a person, this person must be distinct and hence distinguishable in some fundamental fashion from others, including from one’s mother. Is the zygote a distinct being from the mother while in the womb in which the zygote “lives and moves and has its being (relatively speaking).” Or is the child not distinct until some later age, when he or she has rationally and morally decided to be distinct?

Hence, the next question for the next posting: What does “subsistent” mean and how does it bear upon the question “When does a human being begin to exist?”

Infusion of the human soul?

By David Fleischacker

Here is an interesting point think about. Lonergan writes in INSIGHT, that the human mind and will are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue (this is the way that he identifies what is meant by “spiritual” as opposed to material). Intrinsically, the human mind operates with respect to intelligibility and being and thus is not limited intrinsically in its operation by the empirical residue. In contrast, material objects are by definition intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue, which means that these objects cannot be in act or operate without also being limited to doing so by the empirical residue.

The human being however is both spiritual and material. As spiritual, the operators of the mind and will transcend the empirical residue. As material, the motor-sensory matrix does not. This results in an interesting and important relationship between the mind and the “body” because the mind only reaches insight in an image. Hence though the mind operates in a manner transcendent to the empirical residue, it does not reach its answers save through that which is intrinsically conditioned by that residue. This is what Lonergan means when he proclaims that the mind is extrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.

Now, one of the implications of this is that the human spirit cannot emerge in this world in the same manner that material objects can emerge. Hence, emergent probability operates a bit different in that which is spiritual because of the intrinsic freedom of the operators of the mind and will. In turn, this seems to be an argument for the claim that the “notion of being” (or in general, the transcendental notions of intelligiblity, being, and goodness) is infused. In other words, the mind is intrinsically caused by The Transcendent, and thus it is a created participation in the Divine Mind, rather than something that emerges in virtue of a proper statistical ordering of a lower manifold, as one might get from the emergence of organic life from a chemical soup. So, just as in the Thomistic understanding of efficient causality, nothing in this world can efficiently cause the existence of a rational soul, so in the Lonergan understanding of emergent probability, nothing in this world can emergently “cause” the rational subject.

Just a thought.


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